Chetek-Weyerhaeuser freshman Elijah Poppe, pictured above, recorded a personal-record finish at the Cumberland Invitational last week in a time of 21 minutes, which was good enough for 14th place. 

With the exception of that unusually hot, hazy day on Sept. 30, last week’s weather was pretty much the same all week: wind and rain followed by more wind and rain. Of course, all that rain turns otherwise pleasant wooded trails into quagmires of mud, creating sloppy and, in certain spots, treacherous conditions. But as Hayward High School’s former cross country coach Matt Ostrander used to remind his girls, “If you wanted to keep your uniform clean you should’ve gone out for volleyball.” Given last week’s weather, it was impossible for our running Bulldogs to keep their racing singlets, let alone the rest of them, clear of mud on every day they ran.

On Oct. 1, we were at the Timberland Hills Ski Trail near Barronett the site of Cumberland’s annual invitational. Given all the rain we had received in the days leading up to the race, the trail was actually halfway decent except in certain spots that we were warned about. Running 150 middle schoolers through it first, however, just made the bad spots worse. But that’s why they call it cross country and not track.

You know that old saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words”? The night, before the race, Lana Blumer saw a picture in the Barron News-Shield of Barron’s Fran Peterson passing her at our own Dan Conway Invitational the week before and it lit a fire in her. At race time she was “dialed in” and told me frankly that she was going to win. Her good friend and training partner, Natalie Poppe, who has really emerged this season as a HON contender, tweaked a hamstring in practice at the end of last week and would not be running that day. Blumer had something to prove.

And did she. As pretty as Cumberland’s course should be on an early fall day, it’s not what you call spectator-friendly. There are really only two spots to catch the kids running as most of the time they are in the trees. At about 300 meters, the runners enter the Ice Age Trail before they disappear. At that point, Blumer was running sixth. Following a few other coaches who knew the course better, I hoofed it to a crossroads to catch the girls a little past the mile mark. After waiting a minute or two, here came the rabbit with our own Blumer hard on its heels with a commanding lead over all other comers. It was a lead she never surrendered, finishing first in 21:15, 30 seconds ahead of the runner-up from Cameron. After the race, the guy driving the ATV told me, “Boy, did your girl run hard.” 

Rebecca York has been such a great pickup for us this season. She trained this past summer, works hard in practice and in nearly every race she’s been in this season has brought home some hardware. In the wet and mud, she cruised to a sixth place finish in a PR time of 23:05.

Kendyl Johnson and Emily Holmbeck run together in practice and on race day. At that crossroads in the woods where I stood about 10 minutes into the race, Johnson had a five-step lead on Holmbeck, despite the fact that she was running with only one shoe on having lost the other in the mud at the mile mark. In the homestretch, Holmbeck had regained the lead but not by much. Despite the rain, mud and, in Johnson’s case, running shoeless on one foot both girls turned in their very best race of the season finishing about mid-pack in times of 26:37 (Holmbeck) and 26:52 (Johnson). As I joked with Johnson after the race, maybe she loses both shoes next time.

Given our numbers this season, even with a full complement we couldn’t have beat out Cameron with four of their girls finishing in the top ten, but it would have been nice to have Poppe in the mix that day. But in the big picture we need her healthy for the Heart O’North in a week. 

In the boys’ race, we could only run three as Liam Tschumperlin continues to deal with a foot issue, which is frustrating to him. Not only is it frustrating from a racing perspective, but also from a training one, as it means a lot more boring elliptical work-outs just to keep his cardio up. We’re keeping our fingers crossed in hopes of seeing him take the field at the HON meet.

Joseph Jensen always runs hard, but on wet and sloppy courses a runner has to pick where he steps carefully, and Jensen has a knack for finding the loose spots. He did so again on Tuesday. Once again he would be running against Josh Halverson, from Cameron, and Marcus Peterson, from Barron, the clear front-runners for the 2019 HON champion. As good a season as these boys are having, Jensen is by no means simply an “also-ran.” He is in the mix for the top spot as well.

Unfortunately, not on Tuesday. At about the 300-meter mark, he and Halverson were running side-by-side in the top spots with the rest of the front runners close on their heels. In this race, I stood at about the two-mile mark waiting with many other parents and coaches for their favorites to come through. Halverson came through first, then Grantsburg’s No. 1 and then several other runners, and that’s when I knew Jensen had once again fallen somewhere on the course. Eventually, he hobbled through running on one good leg. 

One leg was enough though, for despite falling hard at the one-mile mark, he picked himself up and limped his way to an eighth-place finish in a time of 19:56. This is certainly one of Jensen’s slower times over the last three years, but who can’t admire his no-quit attitude? Despite his tumble, he still claimed one of the top spots. That is what we call “stud muffin-worthy,” and he was awarded as such the following Monday at practice with a chocolate-chocolate muffin from Kwik Trip.

Elijah Poppe is enjoying a strong freshman season. In every race he demonstrates improvement over his last one. Prior to the race I had given him a finish time goal of 21 minutes, which would also equal a personal all-time best. As if programmed, he did just that finishing in 21 minutes on the dot in 14th place.  

Meanwhile, teammate Nolan Loiselle turned in a very workmanlike race of 23:25, just a little off-pace of what has been his normal this season.

Below are the results from the Cumberland Invite: 


Girls’ scores

1. Cameron.........................23

2. Barron.............................39 

3. Bloomer..........................89

4. Cumberland.................101

5. Grantsburg...................122

6. C-W.............................DNP


Boys’ scores

1. Cameron.........................42

2. Bloomer..........................53

3. Grantsburg.....................57

4. Barron...........................101 

5. Shell Lake.....................106

6. C-W............................DNP   

This past Saturday, Oct. 5, the C-W running Bulldogs ran in the 69th running of the Swain Invitational in Duluth, Minn. Held on the grounds of Enger Park Golf Course at the top of the skyline in the “air-conditioned” city this is one of the oldest races in the Midwest. 

With the exception of Superior and C-W, the rest of the field is entirely from Minnesota. With the relentless rain and the hundreds of runners, the course was absolutely inundated by race time and in a few places submerged entirely. Again, this is why it’s called cross country.

Once again we could only race four in the girls race on account of Johnson experiencing a strained knee at practice. But, Natalie Poppe was back after being sidelined at the Cumberland race, and that meant that our dynamic duo of Poppe and Lana Blumer could push each other through another race. 

After walking the course, it was clear this was not going to be a PR-setting day. This was all about getting it done and securing a place. The field was large and, as it turned out, fast in spite of the conditions.

Despite falling down, Blumer picked herself up and in the homestretch ran stride for stride with Poppe. The girls finished 33rd (Poppe) and 34th (Blumer) out of a field of 208 in times of 22:57 and 22:58, respectively. Farther back in the pack were York (25:06) and Holmbeck (28:46). I was proud of all of these girls for slogging through the sloppy conditions of the Swain course that day.

Meanwhile in the boys race a few races later, we could only enter two on account of Jensen’s fall in the previous race. Elijah Poppe and Nolan Loiselle and the 231 other runners ground their way through the course to finish 23:56 and 25:07, respectively. Saturday’s run was a gut-check kind of run and those boys endured.

The C-W running crew was back in action at Hatchery Creek County Park outside of Hayward at the invitational that they hosted on Tuesday, Oct. 8. Look for the recap in next week’s newspaper.

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